Dick Vitale Will Never Give Up, Baby
“People don’t realize what a cancer patient goes through. That’s why I have so much respect and admiration for all these families that have to deal with it with their kids.”
Last March, Dick Vitale utilized a whiteboard to communicate his Final Four picks to fans on social media through his VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) ratings system. Normally, he would voice these picks, but a diagnosis of precancerous vocal cord dysplasia left him on vocal rest for an extended period. He ended up having two separate surgeries on his vocal cords and had to use the whiteboard so he could communicate with others.
Vitale had recently completed a bout with melanoma and was facing lymphoma – all while trying to maintain a positive attitude amid a global pandemic and uncertain future. Inside, he was acutely aware that he was “going through hell,” but remained hopeful that he would one day return courtside to receive a dose of the best medicine possible: calling college basketball games on ESPN.
At times, the madness of being away from the game felt unbearable, but it was through “passion plus pride plus perseverance,” along with the support of his family, friends, colleagues, and fans, that he emerged filled with gratitude and excitement to return to doing what he loves.
In 1993, Jim Valvano took the stage at the inaugural ESPY Awards from Madison Square Garden in New York to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. Throughout his career around the game of basketball, Valvano served as a player, coach, and broadcaster, forming one-half of the dynamic on-air duo the “Killer Vees.” He and Vitale, whose pseudonym is “Dickie V,” were often regarded as having similar broadcast styles imbued with exuberance, candor, and passion.
Less than a year before what ultimately became one of the most well-known award speeches of all time, Valvano had received his diagnosis of metastatic adenocarcinoma. Taking the stage, he gave the audience takeaways on how to approach their lives – including laughing, thinking and expressing emotions responsible for getting one to cry – and shortly thereafter, received a signal that he had 30 seconds to go in his speech. Valvano, however, neglected the plan, instead stating words that have endured the test of time: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
As Vitale laid supine in a hospital bed, those words remained in his subconscious and kept him going during a particularly burdensome and critical health battle. Over the preceding two years, Vitale overcame immense hardships, which began with battling melanoma, a form of skin cancer. To treat this disease, Vitale had to undergo surgery for its removal along with four additional cosmetic surgeries. In August 2021, Vitale announced that following a PET scan (positron electron tomography), his doctor declared him cancer free, and subsequently thanked people for sending him prayers and well-wishes.
“My greatest inspiration was all the prayers and all the messages from people I hadn’t heard from in years,” Vitale said. “….You need that support. I know I needed it because there were times I was laying in that hospital and my family would leave, and tears would flow. [I was] thinking, ‘Would I ever get out of here? Would I ever see my grandkids graduate college?’ It’s tough; it’s a really vicious disease.”
In his youth, Vitale played Little League Baseball but faced immense levels of scrutiny from his opponents and their parents because of blindness in his left eye. The cause, he estimates, was poking it with a pencil at the age of 4 or 5, causing it to appear that he was looking elsewhere. Toeing the rubber on the pitcher’s mound and being taunted by those in the stands engendered irreparable harm, and thinking back on it, he still feels the pain from that day.
Although he had surgery to straighten his left eye in 1984, he is still blind and sees entirely out of his right eye. The decision required Dr. Conrad Giles to operate on both of his eyes, risking a permanent loss of vision, but the pain and suffering that came out of the encumbrance were difficult to bear and led him to take the risk. During the midst of the 1979-80 college basketball season – his first on ESPN and in sports media altogether – a viewer had called to complain about Vitale being on television because of it, calling him a “one-eyed wacko.”
The peremptory and heinous actions of bullies compelled him to receive the surgery and urge others to show compassion towards others. Vitale persevered through the situation, as he originally decided to quit television and called Steve Anderson, the executive overseeing college hoops, to inform him of his decision. Luckily for college basketball and sports fans everywhere, Vitale reversed course and has been a fixture of the sport,
Three years after his surgery, a car crash caused a bone fracture below his right eye, leading him to wear an eye patch and ruminate over whether he would ever see again. Luckily, Vitale did not lose his vision, nor his love for basketball and broadcasting. Through trials and tribulations, he is at the top of his craft, surviving changing regimes, emerging technologies, and a dynamic media landscape simply because he communicates the game to viewers in a way few else can.
“I had a great mom and dad, and they were uneducated [and] had a fifth-grade education – but they had a doctorate of love,” Vitale expressed. “….My [parents] used to always say to me, ‘Richard, big deal. One eye – you can do anything that anybody else does. You’ve got something they can’t hold back. Your energy; your passion; your enthusiasm – someday, you’re going to make in something.’”
Two months after being declared cancer free, he was diagnosed with lymphoma, resulting in six months of chemotherapy and additional steroid treatment. Vitale initially planned to continue working as a college basketball analyst on ESPN during this time, a job he held since the network’s inception in 1979, but he then had to pull the plug when it was discovered he had precancerous vocal cord dysplasia. Resting his voice was no easy task considering it had been the instrument through which Vitale articulated his thoughts, opinions, and feelings on college basketball with unmatched poise and command.
On Nov. 8, 1979, Vitale received a visit to his home by Bill Davidson, the owner of the Detroit Pistons. Little did Vitale know that the moment would mark the end of a 16-year coaching career, taking him from high school to college to the NBA. Vitale started coaching following a brief stint working in accounting, utilizing his business administration degree from Seton Hall University; yet his precipitous rise as a head coach kept him engrossed in the sport and allowed him to experience much success.
From 1958 to 1971, he was a high school basketball coach – first at Garfield High School and then at East Rutherford High School – and led the latter program to two New Jersey state championships. Simultaneously, he was a sixth-grade teacher, balancing the responsibilities of instructing students in the classroom and athletes on the court.
Nonetheless, he was still actively looking for jobs as an assistant coach or graduate assistant elsewhere, always looking to find chances to grow and make it to the NBA. From the day he was fired by the Pistons, Vitale desperately wanted to land another coaching job, especially after posting a 78-30 overall record in four years as head coach of the University of Detroit Mercy Titans.
When he was coaching at the University of Detroit Mercy following two years as an assistant at Rutgers University, Vitale advocated a winning formula of “passion plus pride plus perseverance,” qualities that are evinced in his ebullient and vivacious broadcast style today. He also found ways to convey life lessons to his players and helped the team beat top-ranked opponents and make the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.
As the team entered the round to play the University of Michigan Wolverines, Vitale noticed NBC broadcasters Curt Gowdy and John Wooden watching his team practice on the court. He was then approached by Scotty Connal, a producer for the network, and asked the broadcasters to come to the locker room following practice. Vitale then gave a three-minute talk to his team about “greatness” and described Gowdy and Connal as its epitome, leaving them both flattered and convinced that he could one day be a commentator.
Connal departed NBC in 1979 to assist in the creation of a new television network called ESPN, a combination of four letters Vitale initially thought sounded like a disease. After initially declining an offer from Connal to call the first-ever college basketball game on the network – a matchup between DePaul and Wisconsin – he accepted the position at the suggestion of his wife, Lorraine, even though he still wanted to coach.
“I got very lucky that Scotty called me back 10 days later and said, ‘I’m going to give you one last shot, Dick. You’ve got nothing to do; why don’t you do the game and just have fun?,’” Vitale recalled. “….The things that have happened in my career – I’m blessed; I pinch myself; I’m lucky; I’m fortunate. I’ve just had an incredible ride.”
He considers himself fortunate to have received that phone call and rhapsodies of positive feedback, with Connal and other viewers recognizing his deft knowledge of the game and innate zealousness and excitement.
It was his genuine persona of being passionate and forthright that partially lost him his job with the Pistons, as he had told Davidson he would be unable to win and took the blame for the team’s 30-52 record in the 1978-79 season. He was offered another job in the organization, to which he declined with the hope of returning to coach at the collegiate level.
“Bill Davidson treated me like royalty,” Vitale said. “He kept saying, ‘Dick, you want to get it done now. We know it’s going to be five years at least.’ I said, ‘Oh man, I can coach until I’m blue in the face. We can’t beat Kareem; we can’t beat Dr. J.’ It was frustrating.”
On the day he was fired by the Pistons, Vitale never thought he would be a member of various different halls of fame (14 of them on last count), receive roles in commercials and movies or become one of the most recognizable and distinctive figures in sports broadcasting history. Every time he arrives at an arena, it is evident that Vitale feels the spirit of the game radiate from the court. He embraces the enigma, anticipating the action while staying ready to potentially witness something or someone for the first time.
Throughout his four decades in sports media, Vitale has covered basketball Hall of Famers such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, serving as an erudite voice on a soundtrack documenting the start of legendary careers. While he does not have the ability to jump, run or shoot a basketball, Vitale shares a spot in Springfield, Mass. and is hardly picayune in comparison to the players. His skills and style, filled with honesty, catchphrases and esoteric knowledge, are nonperishable and appeal to audiences no matter their background, acumen or proficiency in basketball parlance.
“I’ve seen so many people today try to develop these niches,” Vitale explained. “I watched John Madden, Terry Bradshaw, Chris Berman [and] Stuart Scott. They were real; they were genuine. That was them; that’s who they are. I’ve always felt I’ve always been me.”
On his first broadcast, Vitale did not arrive until there were 20 minutes remaining to game time and worked alongside Joe Boyle. It was his first time broadcasting a game on television, and in an interview years later, Boyle expressed that Vitale had not changed. His effusiveness and alacrity for basketball and broadcasting keep him well-informed and motivated to improve, prepare and develop synergy with his colleagues and viewers.
“To me, the real pros are your play-by-play guys,” Vitale said. “Those are guys trained… and really have that great ability [and] getting in and out of commercials. I’m there just to tell you what is happening in the world of basketball and in the game taking place. With that, if I do it with lots of energy, enthusiasm and preparation – I’ve always tried to be prepared – my style is unique and different, but it’s always been me.”
Vitale is a beloved figure in the world of sports; however, part of the essence of his job is in critiquing teams and individual players. Sports media pundits and viewers have lauded Vitale for his candor and honesty regarding issues of contentiousness, always approaching the situation with objectivity and integrity. Moreover, he does not waver when it comes to elocuting topics of exigence that simply have to be spoken of. He has gained respect through this approach rooted in probity, augmenting his credibility by being able to support his analysis with facts compendiously and unequivocally delivered in the sport’s vernacular.
“The one thing I’m proud of – and not many guys can say this – I’m going on my fifth decade and there have been all kinds of changes at ESPN, yet I’ve always been there,” Vitale stated. “Our business is very, very situational. It’s not really objective; it’s subjective.”
Despite March Madness being broadcast by CBS, Vitale will still be a critical part of ESPN’s studio coverage throughout the tournament and will broadcast the semifinal and Final Four championships for ESPN’s international feed. In fact, he received an offer made by CBS Sports to call a game or two of the tournament, an offer ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro gave Vitale permission to accept.
Yet he declined out of fidelity to ESPN, the network that gave him his start in the industry, and wants to end his career having worked exclusively for the company. Aside from the tournament itself, Vitale will call the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship Game tomorrow (6 p.m. ET) and the first game of the semifinal tonight (7 p.m. ET) with Jon Sciambi and Kris Budden live on ESPN and streaming on ESPN+.
“I think it’s the greatest three weeks in sports,” Vitale said. “….Everyone seems to catch that basketball fever during that time.”
As Dick Vitale sat in his doctor’s office, he was optimistic that he would be cleared to deliver an acceptance speech at the 2022 ESPY Awards 72 hours later. Even though he had been deemed cancer-free in April 2022, he still faced a battle in recovering from precancerous vocal cord dysplasia.
Vitale had not spoken for a period of five-and-a-half weeks in recovering from the surgery, but Pitaro told him that they would bestow the award on him anyway and have him at the ceremony.
Following tests to determine the progress of healing following surgery, Vitale wrote on his whiteboard: “Please give me permission to speak at the ESPYS.” While Dr. Steven Zeitels, a world-renowned throat specialist, surmised it was not 100% healed and instead at approximately 70%, he considered making an exception to allow Vitale to express his gratitude and thanks in front of a national audience.
Making that exception, however, required the doctor to speak to Pitaro on the phone about the conditions Vitale would be placed under in order to attend. Once Vitale called Pitaro, Dr. Zeitels expressed that Vitale could not do any pre-event or post-event media availability, nor attend the ensuing celebration since it would require he raise his voice to be heard by others.
Vitale would be allowed to speak for a maximum of 20 minutes and then remain silent thereafter, a shortcoming that he did not care about so long as he would be permitted to address the crowd.
Three days later, Vitale was at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif. and introduced on stage by former ESPN president George Bodenheimer, sportscaster Chris Berman and actor Jon Hamm. He vividly remembers feeling nervous waiting to go on stage and speak, questioning how he would sound or what he would say. Once he stepped back in front of the microphone, he was in his element and back among his colleagues, subsequently addressing his gratitude and the ongoing uphill battle he faced.
“When I started, it was an unbelievable reception and the warmth of the crowd just got my adrenaline going,” Vitale said. “Everything I thought I was going to talk about, I just talked from my heart.”
Throughout the speech, Vitale spoke about the blend of passion, pride and perseverance and related it to the crowd, which included famed athletes including Russell Wilson, Lindsey Vonn and Stephen Curry. It is the winning formula Vitale has utilized since his days as a college coach, and one that motivates him to broadcast college basketball at 100 years old and declare someone “Awesome with a capital ‘A.’”
“I guarantee you’ve had passion in what you’ve done; you’ve had pride in what you’ve done; and you’ve preserved. I don’t care who you are – in life, we face challenges…. You’ve got to be able to respond. I was so pleased he allowed me to speak there. Getting that standing ovation before and after gave me goosebumps.”
In November 2022, Vitale made his return to broadcasting in a matchup between the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the Michigan State University Wolverines. He worked alongside versatile play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman and thanked viewers on the broadcast for their support through the adversity he faced.
In the midst of calling a matchup a few weeks later between the Baylor University Bears and Villanova University Wildcats, Vitale received a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd, moving him to tears.
Days later, another standing ovation occurred in the midst of the SEC Tournament game between the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the Indiana University Bloomington Hoosiers. He felt strong emotions during these moments, recognizing how far he had come – but also despondent that there are some people who do not treat others with respect and instead spawn animosity and contentiousness.
Throughout the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vitale was posting daily motivational tips to help people in difficult circumstances. Moreover, he frequently expresses gratitude pertaining to his upbringing, family and career – never losing sight of how fortunate he truly is. He wishes more people would take the time to follow the “Golden Rule” of treating others in the way you want to be treated and believes this simple action could make the world a lot more bearable.
“The violence and the hate just tears my insides out,” Vitale said. “Innocent people being senselessly taken out – it’s just crazy. If we [only] all treated one another with love. I do loads of motivational speeches, and I try to share that all the time. Extend a hand to people.”
Vitale surely extends a hand to others in society through his work as a philanthropist. Whether it is creating an endowment at University of Notre Dame or awarding scholarships to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, he is always looking to find ways he can help and be a positive force in the world.
Although he enjoys his work as a broadcaster, his primary goal is utilizing his platform to raise awareness and funds for cancer research in order to help oncologists find treatments and a cure. He serves on the board of directors for the V Foundation for Cancer Research alongside Bodenheimer, Pitaro, Jay Bilas and other figures across a wide variety of different industries.
The foundation was founded by Valvano in partnership with ESPN before his death in 1993 and holds an annual weeklong campaign on the network, which includes the “Jimmy V Classic” basketball event. The foundation will hold its 30th anniversary gala from Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C. on June 3 to be hosted by North Carolina State University Athletics Director of Content Strategy, Jeff Gravley.
Furthermore, Vitale hosts an annual gala to raise awareness and funding in order to fulfill Valvano’s dream of beating cancer, something he says is essential and must be expediently carried out. In the last 16 years he has held the event, Vitale has raised $55 million for kids battling pediatric cancer, and the foundation as a whole has raised over $310 million. It has its own endowment to cover operational expenses, ensuring all of the money donated gets reinvested into achieving its mission of defeating this disease. This year’s event is set to take place on May 5 from The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla.
“People don’t realize what a cancer patient goes through,” Vitale said. “That’s why I have so much respect and admiration for all these families that have to deal with it with their kids. I try to raise as many dollars as I can for kids battling cancer because people have no idea…. It’s a constant battle and a challenge, so you need that support.”
With March Madness quickly approaching, Vitale is throwing “Dickie V’s Super Sixteen Basketball Bash,” a contest through which he will host one lucky winner and a guest at his home on Friday, March 24 to watch a Sweet 16 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament game together.
The package comes complete with airfare, two nights in a hotel, transportation to and from his home, dinner with Vitale and his wife and a special “Dickie V” care package. The winner will be drawn this upcoming Wednesday, March 15, and all proceeds will benefit the Dick Vitale Fund for Pediatric Cancer at the V Foundation. Those interested in entering for a chance to win can visit “V.org/supersixteen” for more information.
For now, Vitale has no plans of slowing down, energized to raise awareness and money for children battling cancer, along with commentating on college basketball games on ESPN. He is ready for an exhilarating finish to the college basketball season through which he will continue to promulgate the game, learn new things and work with distinguished colleagues. Quite simply, Vitale is grateful to have been able to return to this position, and surely does not take it for granted – enjoying the ride and keeping his foot steadily on the accelerator.
“The moment I don’t get excited about getting out and doing a game and being courtside, no one’s going to have to tell me,” Vitale said. “I’ll know when the party’s over, and it’ll be a very down moment because I’ve loved every moment of it.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.